When Ares Met Najara
by Alan Plessinger
Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstories used in "When Ares Met Najara" are the sole property of MCA/Universal. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.
The course of true love runs not smooth, and it certainly ebbs and flows in the case of Xena and Gabrielle. Their second encounter with Tara filled them with an unfamiliar happiness they hadn't expected, whereas their encounter with Thelassa left them somber but still hopeful for the future, and sure that nothing could ever split them apart or make them hate each other again.
But their encounter with Najara scared them both, in ways they couldn't put words to. They spoke not at all setting up camp after leaving Najara.
At one point Gabrielle headed off into the woods.
"Where are you going?" asked Xena, and there was an absurd note of panic in her voice.
"I'm just gonna go pee."
Gabrielle went off into the woods, and Xena hated herself for being so weak and insecure in her need for Gabrielle.
Najara had fooled them both, and that scared her. Xena had let herself trust Najara to the point that she was ready to leave Gabrielle with her. Gabrielle had been captivated by Najara in ways that Xena could never compete with, and except for the minor fact that Najara turned out to be more Executioner than Crusader, who knows how things might've turned out.
Najara had been left with the town magistrate for a fair trial, but Xena didn't kid herself for a second that any magistrate or jury would ever convict Najara of anything. They'd probably give her a medal.
Najara wouldn't be in anybody's custody for long.
And scarier than that was the fact that Najara could beat the crap out of Xena.
Gabrielle came back into the clearing, and said, "We'd better talk about this, Xena."
"OK. If you've figured out anything, now's the time to tell me. I know we'll be seeing Najara again, and I don't have a clue how to handle her."
"Xena, what I want to tell you is Xena, I promise I will never leave you. I promise."
Xena looked away.
"I never asked you to make that promise."
"I don't care. I'm promising. I've been thinking about it, and my place is with you, forever. I can't deny that I thought about casting my lot with Najara, and that was insensitive of me. I saw too late how much it was hurting you. I know I'm a little dense sometimes, and I'm sorry about that, but I don't want you to ever have to worry about this again. I promise I'm not going anywhere. I swear."
Xena patted the spot next to her.
"Sit down, Gabrielle. I need to tell you something."
Gabrielle sat down
"Najara played us both for suckers," said Xena. "She made me trust her, too. In fact, when I went off to confront that warlord, I didn't plan on coming back. I asked Najara to look after you."
Gabrielle put her hand gently on Xena's knee.
"It's OK. I understand. You thought we'd be splitting up. Much less painful for you to leave before I could say anything. That was my fault."
"It's not just that. Alti showed me a vision of my death. A bleak, wintry, nightmare vision. It's been returning to me over and over since then. I was being crucified on a cross, and you were by my side, dying the same way."
Gabrielle took Xena's hand in both of hers, and kissed it tenderly.
"I'm not afraid to die, Xena. I would be proud to die by your side. If I die with you, I know the cause is just. I know it. Besides, the vision could be a trick."
"Gabrielle, she's shown me other visions that've come true. I have to believe that the vision is predestined, or at least very, very likely. If we're going to change it, we need to do something drastic."
"I thought leaving you with Najara would be enough, at least enough to save you, but I was wrong. There's one thing about the vision that might be a clue. In this vision, you had short hair."
"Short? Like Najara's?"
"Yeah. I'm afraid that you might cut your hair short at some time, trying to impersonate Najara. Maybe, if you didn't cut your hair, it might help. I'm sure it wouldn't be enough in itself, but it's something."
"What if my hair was forcibly cut?"
"Then we'll know the trouble is beginning. Gabrielle, I didn't want to tell you about this."
"I didn't want to scare you. Gabrielle, I don't want you to die with me. If there's any way you can save yourself, I want you to promise me you'll do it. So many have died already because of me. I couldn't stand it if you were one of them. Don't die willingly out of misplaced loyalty."
"I can't promise that, Xena. If there's a chance to save you, any chance, I'll have to take it. What would my life be without you, anyway?"
"Gabrielle, we're not remembered for the best things we do in this life, we're remembered for the worst. I need you to tell people about me. Tell them who I was. Tell them I was more than just the Destroyer of Nations. Tell them how much I wanted to be a good person and make a difference in the world. At least, tell them I tried."
"Alright, Xena. It breaks my heart, but if it's that important to you, I'll walk away from your death. I won't die with you, if I can save myself. I promise. But until then I'm not going to hide like a scared little girl every time things get a little dangerous."
Xena put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and drew her close.
"Thanks, Gabrielle. I know that was hard for you."
They hugged. Xena buried her face in Gabrielle's wonderful smelling hair. When the embrace was over, they pulled back and looked at each other.
"I love you, Xena."
Xena shuddered, and Gabrielle felt it.
"Nothing," said Xena. "Don't let them cut your beautiful golden hair, Gabrielle. I like you just the way you are."
"Sure thing. Xena Warrior Hairdresser, huh?"
"I love you, Gabrielle."
Najara was found guilty by the town magistrate and exiled to Greece, a sentence that made no sense to her at all. She was transported by ship, and spent most of the voyage smiling at the crew members and saying she loved them, and wanted to guide them towards the light. A few of them misinterpreted.
They found out that the reports of her lethal battle skills were not exaggerated.
They sent her ashore in a small rowboat tied to the ship by a towline. When she reached the shore and the woods she waved goodbye to her captors and headed off to a nice secluded spot for the encounter she knew was coming.
"OK, Ares, let's get this over with," she said.
Ares appeared, and smiled charmingly. Najara returned the smile.
"I suppose your little genies told you I was coming?" he said.
"That's Jinn, and yes they did. They also told me you had something to do with getting me exiled to Greece. I suppose you influenced the decision of the chief magistrate somehow?"
"Not me, personally. But we gods have been known to do favors for each other, sometimes."
"If I were to meet only one Greek god in my life, I would've preferred Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare. She never enters into battle unless she's convinced the cause is just. But once in, she's invincible."
"I'll get you her autograph."
"Ares, why don't you let me show you the way to the light? I love you, Ares. Let me guide you. You'd make a wonderful soldier of the light."
"Najara, let me tell you a little story about a beautiful young girl who grew up believing she was superior to everyone around her, and that all the world, all of nature was put into existence only to serve her. And before she could find out any different, the Jinn got ahold of her and decided they'd play some mischief with this little one. They told her all kinds of special things, but more than that, they gifted her with all sorts of special abilities she never had to work for. She learned to deliver a butt-kicking without ever having to receive one. And the Jinn sent her out into the world, filling her head with all kinds of ideas about her mission to remake the world as she saw fit. And her first job was to kill her parents, because they had the unholy gall to forbid her to leave home at the age of fourteen."
Najara smiled and shrugged.
"That was unfortunate but necessary."
"And now that beautiful young girl has grown into a beautiful young warlord. A warlord like any other. She trades not in territory or gold or precious gems, but in slaves. She directs people's lives, tells them how to live, and if her slaves disobey her she executes them. It gives her power over people's lives, and power is what she craves. Power is what makes her happy. And she is invincible in battle, because the Jinn tell her what her opponent is going to do before he does it. But then the young warlord was delivered the first butt-kicking of her young life by a beautiful Warrior Princess. And why? Because she fell in love with an adorable young Amazon Queen who has enchanted many others. I came very close to falling for the adorable one, myself. But I had better sense than that."
"Oh, yes. And now the young warlord is starting to feel hate for the first time, because for the first time in her life, she wanted something and she didn't get it."
Najara smiled sweetly.
"You're wrong, Ares," she said. "I don't hate Xena."
"You can't hide your feelings from me, Najara. You may have the Jinn on your side, but you're still mortal, after all. And you're no match for me. If we stuck to swordfighting and other strictly mortal combat you could defeat me, but I have a lot more power than that at my disposal. I am a god, after all, and with only a thought I could rip you in half, and if you doubt it I'd be glad to separate you from an arm or a leg as a demonstration."
"Ares, I can see that we have nothing to talk about. Thank you for bringing me here, but we're both wasting our time."
She walked away from Ares.
"OK, fine, walk away. Go ahead, give up on Gabrielle."
"Najara, I don't care about that many people in this world, but I care about Gabrielle. It kills me to see her traveling like a vicious murderer like Xena. I want to rescue her. I want to see her with someone who deserved her."
"So we're going to kill Xena?"
"Oh, come one, Najara. You know Gabrielle would never have anything to do with you if you did that."
Najara stopped and listened, attending the words of her Jinn. Then she threw back her head and laughed.
"You don't give a damn about Gabrielle. You just want to separate her from Xena. It's Xena you want."
Ares held out his hands in a conciliatory gesture.
"OK, fine. You can't con me, I can't con you. But you want Gabrielle, I want Xena. There are things we could do for each other. Are you interested?"
"Maybe. What's your plan?"
"Simple. Gabrielle met Xena for the first time when Xena saved her from some slave traders. I want to send you back in time to before they met. You save Gabrielle, and prevent her from travelling with Xena. Gabrielle is yours, and Xena is mine. Agreed?"
"Not a bad little plan, Ares. You can be pretty clever sometimes, no matter what they say. Fine. I'll do it."
"Good. And you might want to hold off on the executions for awhile, Najara. That's what made you lose Gabrielle the last time around. And by the way, if you try to kill Xena I give you my word I will make you wish you'd never been born. Do we understand each other?"
"Now, tell me something, before I send you on your way. I'm just starting to understand why Xena has a thing for the adorable one. But what hold does she have on you?"
Najara smiled. She tilted her head to one side and closed her eyes in an expression of bliss.
"I don't know if it's anything that can be explained to someone like you, Ares. If you could just let go of yourself and allow yourself to feel a little of what you were beginning to feel in the presence of Gabrielle, if you could just lose yourself in those wonderful green eyes, if you could just listen to that adorable giggle and let it lift your soul to places you never even knew existed, maybe you could begin to understand what Gabrielle means to me. The Jinn have told me so much about her, Ares, and everything they've told me has only made me love her more. Xena may need her more than I do, but I'm the one who deserves her. And I'm going to have her. I WILL have her."
"Yes, you will," said Ares, and sent her on her way back in time with a wave of his hand.
"You two deserve each other," he muttered.
Herodotus and Hecuba were fawning over Najara like she was a Queen or a goddess. They couldn't do enough for her. They invited her into their home, they held out a chair for her, they gave her food and drink, and they couldn't stop thanking her for returning their daughters safe and unharmed.
Gabrielle didn't quite know what to make of Najara. The beatific smile which would've enchanted her another time, now only disturbed her. The pretentious, smug, arrogant manner about her made Gabrielle believe that she wasn't all she made herself out to be.
While Gabrielle was studying Najara, Lila grabbed her sister and hugged her.
"That was so close, Gabrielle," said Lila. "We both could've been slaves for the rest of our lives if not for that woman."
"We're slaves already," said Gabrielle. "First to our parents, then to our husbands."
"Gabrielle, don't even say that. You know how slaves are treated. It could've been a horrible, brutal life for us. We owe Najara more than we can ever repay."
"I guess. Why doesn't she ever stop smiling?"
"She's happy. She enjoys saving people. There's no crime in that."
"But she never stopped smiling while she beat up those slavers. Even when she killed one of them she didn't stop smiling."
"Good for her. I wish they were all dead."
"Lila, some things you just shouldn't enjoy doing, even if they are necessary. Smiling like that while you kill someone it's creepy. If it was a bloodthirsty smile I could understand it, but this doesn't seem human. And now she has them all chained up. Why? What is she gonna do with them? And what is this light she keeps yakkin' about?"
"Who knows? If it's bloodthirsty you want, you should see that warlord they've got locked up in jail."
"Who? What's his name?"
"HER name. Have you ever heard of Xena?"
"Xena? Really? Xena, Warrior Princess? It couldn't be her! No jail could hold her, especially not our little jail. A woman who's defeated armies and laid waste to villages all over Greece was captured by a bunch of farmers from Poteidaia? I don't think so."
"She just gave herself up. We're waiting for the authorities to take her away."
"Stay away from her," said Herodotus at the door, making the two sisters jump.
"What?" asked Gabrielle.
"Stay away from Xena. She's a dangerous woman. I know you'll be over there bothering her, Gabrielle."
Najara appeared behind Gabrielle's father.
"Your father is right, Gabrielle," said Najara, smiling her sickeningly sweet smile.
"Najara wanted to speak to you, Gabrielle. Come along, Lila."
Lila left their room, and Herodotus gave Gabrielle a warning look, warning her not to what? What did he think Gabrielle was going to do or say? Whatever she did, he'd find something to complain about.
Oh, to be out of this damn town!
Gabrielle sat at a table, and Najara sat across from her.
"Gabrielle!" she said excitedly, and reached for Gabrielle's hands. Gabrielle pulled her hands away. The movement was a little too intimate and personal from a woman she'd just met.
"Thank you so much for everything you've done for this town," said Gabrielle.
"Oh, Gabrielle, you'll never know how happy I was to be of service!" said Najara. "Gabrielle, I have good news! I have wonderful news! The most wonderful news you'll ever hear!"
"You're coming with me, Gabrielle! I want you to travel with me. I need for you to travel with me!"
Gabrielle stared blankly.
"What are you talking about?"
"We belong together, you and I. We have so much in common! And I need you in my crusade to turn all evildoers towards the light and make them live good and virtuous lives."
Gabrielle thought to herself, "What kind of person talks like this?"
"Gabrielle, you don't belong in this town. You were destined for great things. I'm offering you a way out of here. Wouldn't you love to be able to do all the wonderful things I can do? I can teach you!"
Gabrielle was getting more and more uneasy as the conversation went on.
"Look, I don't understand. You do just fine on your own. What do you need me for?"
"I am not scaring her off!" exclaimed Najara.
Gabrielle jumped. She looked around.
"Who are you talking to?"
"The Jinn speak to me. They give me advice."
Gabrielle stood up.
"OK, that's it. I don't know what this is about or who you are, but you're giving me the creeps."
"No, Gabrielle, please! I know I'm not explaining things very well, but if you'll just trust me I swear you won't be making a mistake!"
Najara grabbed Gabrielle's hand, and Gabrielle struggled to be free.
"Please, inside of a week with me you'll be so happy "
"No! Let go of me!"
"Gabrielle, please, I need you. Gabrielle I love you."
Gabrielle looked intently at Najara. The most frightening thing about her plea was that it was delivered in the same calm, confident voice she had been using throughout the conversation, and that smug, self-satisfied smile never left her countenance.
Gabrielle wanted out of that room.
"I'll think about it," she said, "but you've gotta let me go."
The Poteidaia jail was a ramshackle old building that looked ready to fall down in a stiff breeze. It had never been used to hold a dangerous criminal, only the occasional drunken, brawling villager thrown into the holding cell to sleep it off.
It was seldom attended by a guard, so there was no one to stop Gabrielle from wandering in and pulling up a chair next to the bars.
Xena was sitting on the bed close to the bars. She looked at Gabrielle, her eyes slowly focusing as though she were drunk.
"What do you want?"
"I've never seen a female warlord."
Xena looked down.
"This isn't a circus," she said. "No one's selling tickets to see the amazing Xena. Go away and leave me alone."
"Isn't there anything I can get you? Anything you need?"
"No. Save your compassion for someone who deserves it."
"I'm Gabrielle," she said, and extended her hand through the bars.
"Kid, don't you have any more sense than to hold out your hand to a wild animal?"
"You gave yourself up with no struggle. You're not a wild animal."
Xena looked up as Gabrielle rested her outstretched hand on the bars.
"You don't know anything," said Xena.
"Then tell me. Tell me what's wrong."
Xena laughed, and met Gabrielle's gaze.
"What's wrong? What's wrong with me? What wrong with my life? Where do I begin?"
"Leave me alone, kid. You don't want anything to do with me."
Gabrielle looked at this sad, damaged warrior, and the sight made her feel like crying. Wanting to see Xena had been pure curiosity, at first. But now she wished she could do something for Xena. She wished she could understand why Xena had just given up.
"She can't be evil," thought Gabrielle. "Even if she's done everything they say, she just can't be evil. Look at the remorse she's feeling. The weight of her sins is crushing her."
"Please," said Gabrielle, "just tell me why you gave up without a fight."
"Because I'm guilty."
"Do you WANT to go to jail?"
"No one wants to go to jail. But I need to pay for the things I've done."
"Is that the only way to do it?"
Xena looked away and rested her forehead on the palm of her hand.
"What do you want out of me?" asked Xena. "Why are you bothering me?"
"I just wish I could help you."
"Why? What's the point?"
"I don't know. You're in so much pain, I wish I knew how to help you."
"Gabrielle, don't you suppose there's some people who deserve to be in pain?"
"Maybe. But there's all kinds of pain, and all kinds of ways to deal with it. You can wallow in your pain, or you can use it, let it make you into a better person. No one's unhappy when they're helping other people."
"I wanted to help other people, once. I met Hercules. I fought by his side."
"You met Hercules?"
"He changed me. He made me want to be a good person. A hero. But I don't know what happened to my resolve. All at once it seemed to just melt away from me. I buried my weapons and walked away. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, and I still don't know. Then I was captured, and the life of a prisoner seemed like a life I deserved."
"But you never even tried to be a hero. You just gave up."
Xena looked down into her lap.
"Gabrielle, do you know what it's like to be so evil that your own mother will have nothing to do with you?"
"Then don't lecture me, because you just don't know."
Gabrielle reached in and placed her hand over Xena's fingers.
"Xena, I think you could be a great hero."
Xena looked at Gabrielle, at those beautiful green eyes, and realized she had just met this girl and had already told her more about herself than she'd ever intended to tell anyone, ever again.
"How would YOU know?" asked Xena.
"I just know. I believe in you."
And Gabrielle smiled. And Xena stared at that smile, and couldn't take her eyes from it. An amazing smile that glowed with happiness and warmth and love. It made green eyes sparkle and blue eyes soften.
Xena realized she was actually holding her breath, afraid that the smile might vanish.
"I'm sure she smiles like that at everyone," thought Xena.
A large man appeared in the doorway, casting a shadow into the prison building. It was Herodotus.
"Gabrielle, what are you doing? I told you to stay away from that woman."
"Father, I'm an adult. You can't keep ordering me around."
Herodotus strode angrily into the prison, and pulled Gabrielle roughly away from the bars. Gabrielle's hand slipped away from Xena's fingers, and Xena realized how she missed the touch after it was gone for just a second.
Xena stifled the urge to reach through the bars and grab Gabrielle's father.
"Please, let her stay just a few minutes more," said Xena.
Herodotus looked at her in surprise.
"We were only talking," explained Xena.
"Talking about what?"
"It's difficult to explain," said Xena. "Please, just let her stay."
Herodotus glared at the warrior, then said, "If you hurt her, I swear I'll kill you myself."
"Oh, you will, will you? Why don't you just "
"Why don't I just what?"
"No. Why don't I just what?"
Xena closed her eyes and lowered her head. Prison was where she belonged. She could imagine killing this man so easily. Try as she might, she couldn't imagine anything else.
"Why don't you just give us a few more minutes together. That's what you were going to say, right, Xena?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle in surprise. Gabrielle wasn't smiling, exactly, but there was such a sweet and sympathetic look in her eyes. And Xena was amazed how quickly her violent thoughts dissolved. All violence was gone from her imagination, and she had an impulse, almost irresistible, to reach out and touch that lovely, adorable face.
Instead she simply nodded to Gabrielle's father. She looked to Gabrielle, and there was that smile again. Oh, that smile! Nearly enough to make Xena smile herself.
"So incredible. A sunrise over a beautiful green meadow," thought Xena. "She walks amongst these people, and they just have no idea."
Xena watched Herodotus leave.
"That would be the reaction everywhere I went," said Xena. "My reputation precedes me everywhere. They wouldn't let me help them."
"Did you think it would be easy? Since when does a hero ask for permission to help?"
Gabrielle say down again, and sighed.
"Xena, there's a woman in this town named Najara. She saved a lot of us from being taken as slaves. If not for her, I'd be a slave right now."
"Good. I'm glad she was there."
"What if she wasn't? What if you were there? Would you have saved us?"
"I don't know. I suppose so."
"Xena, look in your heart and tell me the truth. What would you have done?"
Xena tried to imagine anyone trying to hurt this beautiful, sweet, gentle, lovely girl.
"I would've stopped them."
"You would've stopped them, and you wouldn't give a damn what anyone thought. Xena, right now they're giving Najara a big hero's welcome. They're preparing a feast in her honor. And she's just lapping up the praise. She loves every minute of it. Is that what you need to be a hero?"
"No. I don't know what I need."
"Damn it, Xena, you make me so angry! You've got all this potential to be great, and you don't care! You'd rather rot away your life in a prison cell!"
"Gabrielle!" said the figure at the door.
"Oh, great," muttered Gabrielle. "Next up."
Perdicus strode angrily into the prison building.
"Gabrielle, your father told me "
"That's right, Perdicus, I'm talking to Xena. And we're not done yet, so why don't you just let us get back to it."
"Gabrielle, you don't know how dangerous she is."
"I know how dangerous she is. I've heard all the stories. Look at her, is she threatening me in any way? Am I in any danger?"
"No. But you don't know what she could do."
"Perdicus, we're not married yet. You've no right to order me around. Leave us alone, I'll be out in a minute."
Perdicus glared at them both for a few seconds, announced that he'd be right outside the door if he was needed, and finally left.
"I have got to get out of this town," said Gabrielle. "I wasn't meant for village life. I'm not like these people."
Xena said, "I suffer from too much adventure, you from not enough."
"Between the two of us, maybe we could find a happy medium. Together."
"Don't knock a boring village life until you've tried it. You know the proverb, 'May you never have the misfortune to live in interesting times'?"
"I could use a little of that misfortune. Xena, what if I could convince the chief magistrate and the rest of this town that you deserve to be freed to atone for your crimes in your own way? What then?"
"These people would never let me go. And I don't deserve to be freed."
"Xena, stop talking about what you deserve and think about what you can do in the world! If someone killed a member of your family, if you were really convinced that he wanted to change his ways and never again be a killer, and be of some use to the world, would you give him the chance, or would you rather he rot in prison?"
Xena thought about Cortese.
"If I could really be convinced," said Xena, "then I would give him the chance."
"Then by the gods, Xena, give yourself the chance!"
Xena suddenly realized she was breathing heavily, and staring into Gabrielle's eyes with an intensity she couldn't explain.
"Who are you, Gabrielle!" she said. "You just met me! How can you believe in me more than I believe in myself?"
"I don't know. I don't know," she said. "I just can't stand to see you throw away your life. If you want me to give up on you like you've given up on yourself, I will. But there's one more thing I need to tell you."
Gabrielle moved closer to the bars and placed her hand back on Xena's fingers.
"Najara wants me to leave Poteidaia with her. I don't know why she wants me, but she does. I don't want to go with her. She gives me the creeps. I'm getting out of this town however I can. But, Xena, I'd rather travel with you."
"Me? Why me and not Najara? She sounds like the real hero."
"I don't know why she wants me to travel with her. She doesn't need me. But you, I think you need me."
Xena looked surprised.
"What exactly do I need you for?"
"If you really have to ask that, then I guess you don't need me after all."
Xena was at a loss for words. She tried to get herself to say that she didn't need Gabrielle, but the words wouldn't come.
Finally, she just shook her head.
"If you convince them, I'll try to be the hero you think I can be. No, I'll do more than try. I'll do it. As long as you keep believing in me, I'll never give up. I'll remember what you did for me, and what you said, and I'll keep it with me forever. But you can't come with me. It's too dangerous. I'm not going to ruin your life like I've ruined so many others. I'm sorry."
Xena couldn't help but be affected by the pain and disappointment in those beautiful green eyes. But the warrior also realized that Gabrielle didn't intend to accept the decision for a second.
"Gabrielle," said Najara.
"All right! I get it!" snapped Gabrielle. "Stay away from Xena! Fine! Enough, already!"
Gabrielle strode angrily out the door, bumping past Najara.
Najara smiled sweetly at her mortal enemy, in prison, unarmed, completely defenseless.
"What do you want?" snarled Xena.
"I want to liberate your soul," said Najara, "but I'll settle for keeping Gabrielle far, far away from you, any way I can. Any way I have to."
Xena led Argo to the edge of town, with Gabrielle walking patiently beside her. When they reached the open road, Xena turned to Gabrielle.
"Thank you," said Xena. "That was quite a defense. How did you ever get Hercules to come and testify for me?"
"Getting him to come was no problem. Finding him was the problem. There are a few bards I speak with, sometimes. They keep track of the locations of various heroes. After that it was a little trick with homing pigeons to deliver the message. Even then, he was a day late getting to Poteidaia. I had to stall to give him time."
"I could tell you were stalling.'
"I know. The whole town could tell. This town doesn't think much of me, Xena. I knew I could talk until I was blue in the face and they'd still never let you go. But Hercules only had to show up and clear his throat and maybe flex a little, and the court would do whatever he wanted."
"Gabrielle, when you saw me in prison, exactly what about me said 'hero' to you?"
"Najara got me thinking about heroism. If I were to travel with a hero, I want to be with someone who's a hero not because she wants to be, but because she truly NEEDS to be. That's you."
Xena sighed and looked at looked at the road ahead.
"Gabrielle," she said, and Gabrielle threw her arms around Xena in a warm embrace.
Xena closed her eyes and buried her face in Gabrielle's hair, and wondered how she could ever go on without her. But her resolve did not weaken. She refused to be that selfish.
When they parted, Gabrielle said, "I've been wanting to do that for so long."
"Gabrielle, you told your folks you were just walking me to the edge of town."
"I said that."
"And here you are with your knapsack."
"How about that? Why do you suppose that is?"
"Gabrielle, my answer is still the same."
"Sure, but if a young girl were to start following your horse on foot, there wouldn't be anything you could do about it, would there?"
"That would depend on how fast Argo feels like traveling today."
"And how fast is that?" asked Gabrielle, and smiled, and then giggled.
Oh, what a giggle.
And Xena was defeated. She realized she couldn't ever win against Gabrielle, and she didn't want to. She wasn't going anywhere without Gabrielle.
Najara stepped out of the woods with her sword drawn.
"Gabrielle," she said, "get away from Xena. You belong with me."
"Gabrielle, this is for your own good."
"Gabrielle," said Xena, "you're probably better off with her."
"Xena, she's an executioner! She kept those slave traders in chains for three days, and then killed them all!"
Xena's eyes narrowed as she peered at Najara.
"Is that true?"
"You weren't meant to see that, Gabrielle."
Xena drew her sword and said, "Kidnap somebody else, Najara."
Gabrielle stepped between the two of them, saying, " Enough! Go back where you came from, Najara. Xena will destroy you. Enough blood has been shed in our little town. Even if you were to win I wouldn't go with you."
"Even if I were to lose, Xena doesn't want you. You heard her. You're just a whiny brat to her."
"I never said that," said Xena.
"Xena needs me. She just won't admit it. We were meant to be together."
"Gabrielle, if you stay with her she'll hurt you in ways you couldn't even begin to imagine."
"I know, and I don't care. I love Xena."
"Xena doesn't love you. She couldn't love you like I do."
Gabrielle marched angrily up to Najara, right to the point of her sword, and said, "If you're going to fight someone, fight me."
"I could never hurt you, Gabrielle."
"Then go away and leave me alone. If you take me away from Xena, you'll kill me."
She took her knapsack and swung it at the sword, and managed to get close enough to Najara to slap her face. Najara was stunned.
"Go away and leave us alone, murderer."
"I'm sorry about this, Gabrielle, but you'll thank me later."
She slapped Gabrielle with the flat of her blade, hard enough to knock her down.
Xena didn't need to see any more. She charged at Najara and attacked her with a pure ferocious animalistic bloodlust. For the first time Gabrielle saw Xena give herself over to the raging beast within, and saw that Najara fought dispassionately and almost casually, and was amazed to see that Najara was winning.
When it was over, Xena was on the ground unconscious, and Najara stood over her, sword in hand.
"NO!" yelled Gabrielle, and threw herself on Xena's body.
"You win! I'll go with you anywhere, I'll do whatever you want, but please, in the name of mercy, please, please don't kill her!"
"Won't work twice, Gabrielle."
As gently as she could, she pushed Gabrielle off of Xena with one foot.
She raised her sword high into the air, and delivered the killing stroke.
Najara instantly found herself back before Ares.
"Damn you!" he said. "Don't you ever, ever take the word of a god lightly!"
He put both index fingers together, and with two bolts of divine force, lifted Najara into the air. She continued to smile at him complacently.
"I love you, Ares. Let me lead you ..aieyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee"
She screamed in pain, and Ares yelled, "How dare you kill my chosen! How dare you! Now I have to go back and take you out of the timeline completely! Do you have any idea how messy that's gonna be? Do you?"
Najara was too busy screaming in pain to answer.
"Well, I'll take care of that later, but right now, you've gotta no, I'm not even gonna say it."
Ares pulled his two index fingers apart, and Najara's body slowly split right up the middle. Flesh and bone ripped apart, and blood gushed onto the ground.
Najara screamed until her larynx was torn in two.
The next morning Xena was up in time to see the sunrise, and watch the first rays of morning light slowly illuminate the adorable features of Gabrielle.
She smiled as she brushed back Gabrielle's lustrous hair. Oh, how beautiful. How sweet and lovely. After all Xena had done to her, all the things Xena had put her through, that lovely light in her soul was too strong to ever truly be gone.
Tomorrow, or the next day, or some day after that, Xena was due to be dying on a cross right next to the love of her life, looking over at those amazing green eyes, hearing Gabrielle say how much she loved her, saying it in return.
Xena closed her eyes in prayer.
She prayed that Gabrielle not have to die with her, or that if it must happen, let it be far, far in the future.
Even as she prayed, her words sounded hollow and empty to her, and she had no faith that any god would care.
"At least just give me today," she prayed as she stroked Gabrielle's hair. "Just give me today with my wonderful, warm, sweet, loving Gabrielle. I can't ask for anything more than that. Please just give me today."
Gabrielle awoke as Xena was stroking her hair, and Xena pulled back her hand in embarrassment, but Gabrielle grasped it gently. She took it to her lips and kissed the back of Xena's fingers. As Xena looked on breathlessly, she took the hand in both of hers and pressed it to her body, with the back of the hand touching Gabrielle's breasts. She leaned her head down to kiss Xena's hand again, and her beautiful reddish-gold hair spilled from her shoulders like an amazing enchanted waterfall.
"Good morning," said Xena. "One of who knows how many mornings we have left."
"Don't talk about that, Xena. Don't think about the future. If we must die, let's do all we can to be proud of the time remaining. Let's just be proud of our lives. Let's be proud of today."
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